Fanatec CSL DD review


“Direct drive for a broader audience” – that’s how Fanatec describes its new CSL DD. Is Fanatec right? And is a direct drive wheel at the prices asked worth it?

The sim racing world appeared to be turned on its head earlier this year, when Fanatec released information about their new entry-level direct drive wheel. The internet went crazy, many proclaiming that all other manufacturers must now release direct drive wheels or they’ll be finished as a business.

Buy the Fanatec CSL DD (8Nm) from Fanatec.com for EUR 479,95
Buy the Fanatec CSL DD (5Nm) from Fanatec.com for EUR 349,95

Then, a few weeks later Thrustmaster announced the T-GT 2 – a wheel that would typically have been launched without too much of a buzz. But just a quick look through social media comments about the wheel revealed that pretty much all posters were slamming it because “It’s not direct drive” and “It’s too expensive”.

I haven’t driven the T-GT 2 yet, but at some point I hope do so. I have had the opportunity to drive the predecessor, though, which I liked a lot, and from what I’ve read and watched, this wheel is even better.

The CSL DD does put other manufacturers in a bit of a predicament, though.

Whether the CSL DD is any good is something we’ll get to – the fact that for as little as 350 euros you can now buy a direct drive wheel seemingly makes it difficult for the likes of Thrustmaster and Logitech.

Whatever wheels they bring out in the near future that are similarly priced to the CSL DD will be instantly compared to it, and for many, if the new wheels aren’t direct drive, they won’t be good enough.

This should be a good thing for you and me, the consumers. For quite a few years, the entry to mid-tier section of sim racing hardware has mainly been consistent. Yes, products are refined and new features come with the next iteration of a wheel, but in the main, they have looked, felt, and driven the same way.

This could of course be a flash in the pan, and anyone looking to buy a sub 500 euro wheel sometime in the future may not have direct drive in mind at all. But right now, in 2021, it seems that all wheels should de direct drive.

Overview​

The CSL DD is compatible with the Xbox and PC and comes with several options.

Parting with 350 euros will get you the hub in 5nm form and that’s just about it – you will still need to purchase pedals and a steering wheel.

The great news is that the CSL DD is compatible with all Fanatec wheels – so if you’re on a budget, you can use a secondhand wheel or borrow one from a friend.

For 480 euros, you get exactly the same hub but with the booster kit – which is essentially a larger power brick, providing the hub with more power and unleashing the wheel to its full potential of 8nm.

It’s important to note that the table clamp is an additional accessory and costs 30 euros.

If you decide to part with 350 euros and purchase the booster kit later, you can, but it will cost you more – the booster kit costs £150, making the combined purchase 30 euros more.

If you already have Fanatec pedals, a shifter, and/or a handbrake – great. The CCSL DD allows you to plug them directly into the back of the hub.

If you purchase the table clamp, it will fit tables between 5mm and 60mm thick, and there are some T-nuts supplied in the box that allow for easy mounting to pretty much any rig.

It’s not the prettiest hub I’ve ever seen, but you get used to it, and in some ways, it does share some characteristics with the Fanatec dd1 and dd2. However, the way it looks is deliberate – the hub is fanless, using aluminium fins to passively cool itself. At this point, I should say that during my testing of the CSL DD, it never felt hot or even warm to touch.

5nm Review​

I’ve decided to review the 5nm and 8nm variations separately because there is a difference, and I want my thoughts and feelings on both options to be clear.

The first thing you will notice is the smoothness of this wheel. If you’ve never driven a direct drive wheel and are used to gears and pulleys, you will be blown away by how this wheel feels even without it running in a sim. There’s no grating from cogs or friction from pulleys, just direct drive smoothness.

At the time of this review, I have tested the CSL DD with Assetto Corsa and Assetto Corsa Competizione. I will test in other sims, but this review will be based on my experience from these two specifically.

I’ve also tried to place myself into the minds of different consumers, who may have different expectations of the wheel. I’ve thought about the wheel from the perspective of someone coming from an entry level one, and I’ve also considered someone who’s had experience with a direct drive wheel.

So let’s get the latter out of the way first – if you’ve had experience with other direct drive wheels, you are going to be let down by the CSL DD in its 5nm form. You’re used to 18nm or higher, and with 5nm, there’s simply no comparison.

However, if you are moving over to the CSL DD from an entry-level wheel, you’re likely going to experience a wave of different emotions about this new Fanatec hub.

I’ve already mentioned how smooth it is, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised with how punchy a direct drive wheel can feel. The way the hub communicates with you is totally different to any entry-level wheel. You will feel the bumps, kerbs, track deviations, and the tyres loading up far more than you’re used to.

I would also say the CSL DD in its 5nm form is great for desks and entry-level rigs. You get many of the characteristics of a direct drive wheel but without the huge torque from other wheels that would simply rip apart entry-level rigs and turn any desk into firewood.

However, I’m sure there will be a time while experiencing these emotions that you wished you had gone with the 8nm option.

At 5nm there’s an apparent lack of detail at a granular level. Whilst you get the feeling that I mentioned earlier, it feels distant from the cars I was driving, and in some ways it feels numb. I kept going back to ffb settings and Fanalab, trying to extract more and more out of the hub to no avail.

There’s the cost to consider, too.

If you start to add up the cost – hub, wheel, and pedals – and opt for purely Fanatec gear, you will be parting with £630.

For just 350 euros you can purchase the Logitech G923, which admittedly has approximately half the amount of torque of the CSL DD but comes with TrueForce, which interprets in-game sounds and physics information and converts that to additional force feedback.

And for 700 euros Thrustmaster offer the T-GT 2, which produces a similar amount of torque but comes with its own technology that delivers an extra layer of driving feel.

The point that I am trying to make here is that just because the CSL DD is a direct drive wheel, it does not automatically entail a better driving experience.

8nm Review​

It might be just 3mn more, but this is the equivalent of slapping on more power than any entry-level wheel to the 5nm or torque the CSL DD produces in its cheaper form.

At 8nm, you can expect all the benefits that I described in the 5nm review and far fewer drawbacks.

There is so much more feel. As a driver you feel the bumps more and the texture of the road, and at high torque moments, you will be fighting with the wheel. All these benefits enhance the emersion you will experience with the additional booster kit. Catching slides will be even easier than before, and finding the limits of your tyres will come more naturally.

Whilst 8nm won’t snap your arm like more powerful hubs, I’d recommend letting go if you get into a spin or you will have bruised thumbs!

I’m not trying to tell you that this wheel can compete with the dd1, dd2 or other even more expensive direct drive wheels, because it can’t. At 8nm this hub has a third, sometimes even less, of the power of other direct drive wheels.

There are other things to consider though: with higher torque wheels, you will need a high-quality rig. For this review and my daily driver, I use the Thrustmaster Challenger rig, and at 8nm, it feels like it’s at its absolute limit.

Though the table clamp is an option for the CSL DD, you will need to turn the force feedback right down to be able to use it with 8nm.

I am extremely impressed with 8nm of torque. I’ve found it very easy to get back on pace with this hub, and I could see this variation of the CSL DD being one I would purchase myself.

Bits I Don’t Like​

Nothing’s ever perfect, and there are a few things about the CSL DD that I don’t like.

I’m not a fan of the massive power button at the front of the hub. Not only is this a power button, but also it allows you to cycle between PC and Xbox modes – twice I’ve hit this button as I’ve been driving, which completely ruins the race. Having this button at the front makes no sense to me. Yes, it might be easier to switch between modes as you don’t have to reach around the back, but is it that much of an inconvenience to reach around and how many times are sim racers going to be switching between the two different modes?

I’m also not a fan of the plastic end caps – I understand the wheel has to be made with a budget in mind, but picking at it with my finger, the end caps remind me of instant ready-meal trays.

Buy the Fanatec CSL DD (8Nm) from Fanatec.com for EUR 479,95
Buy the Fanatec CSL DD (5Nm) from Fanatec.com for EUR 349,95

Final Thoughts​

Whether this wheel is for you or not is a decision you alone must make. For 5mn, there’s a good argument that other wheels may provide a better driving experience. However, for 8nm, I believe this is the best option in this price range.

I will say this though: Fanatec have put the cat amongst the pigeons with a direct drive wheel for under £500, which hopefully means everyone else steps up their game in the coming months and years, making sim racing even better for us all.

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About author
Damian Reed
PC geek, gamer, content creator, and passionate sim racer.
I live life a 1/4 mile at a time, it takes me ages to get anywhere!

Comments

After you spend $500 on the base and the upgraded power supply, then you have to buy a wheel for another (probably) $300. That's $800. For $1000 you can get the Accuforce V2 (with the best software made) and 13 NM of torque. Why not just spend the extra $200? It just makes more sense.
 
Steve Worrell
Premium
Why is he talking to his computer screen and not his audience?
Comments like this are why I stopped making videos. The "I would do it much better than this guy" comment, I just can't deal with this sort of thing.

Give the guy a break this is his third video for RD and first review. We also got the equipment much later than any other channel so Damian can be forgiven fo not having everything memorised at this point.

Let me rephrase your comment."Hi Damian, something I think could improve your videos is if you address the audience by looking into the camera. Thanks" It's not hard to be nice.
 
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As you said, the market will emit the final verdict. In any case, Fanatec was first and quickest so.. good luck to the others. I think this was exactly the right moment for Fanatec, as if you are looking for an "affordable" upgrade to your rig right now then this is a very good option. In my case, I wanted to buy a graphics card but they're too expensive and/or unavailable here in Italy, so getting a CLS DD was the best alternative: I improve my gaming experience (from an old T500RS to a DD wheel) without going broke.
 
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After you spend $500 on the base and the upgraded power supply, then you have to buy a wheel for another (probably) $300. That's $800. For $1000 you can get the Accuforce V2 (with the best software made) and 13 NM of torque. Why not just spend the extra $200? It just makes more sense.
Many people will be upgrading from something like a CSL elite, like myself. However, it's $480 + $200 for the McLaren wheel, so $680 total. The accuforce appears to be $1050, so a not insubstantial $370 difference.
 
D
if they sell it for base price of 5 nm BUT with that "magic" power enchancement to 8nm xD
that could be good. but currently i dont like such practise as selling hardware that is able to make 8 nm BUT want more money to use it xD its controversial like selling cars with navigation in it BUT want more money to unlock it, then you go to some kind of hacker that unlocks that navigation for you at 1/10 of price the dealer want LOL
i just wait till people can buy fanatic 5 nm DD wheel for basic price and they buy on alliexpress some chinese power supply hack thing to unlock rest power to 8 nm xD
as i said i dont like such practise. it would look better in my eyes to make 2 different bases one cheaper of 5 nm and second expensive of 8 nm but selling 5 and 8 nm SAME BASE but you must pay more to have 8 nm LOL that look ridiculous, but simracers as always will buy anything.. reminds me of that quick release systems that are cheaper for real cars than to sim racing LOL
 
D
imagine thrustmaster selling them t500rs (my previous wheel, it had 4,4 nm) for 100-50 dollar less price but you have then weaker power supply and only 3 nm, and if you want 4,4 nm you must pay extra 50-100 dollar for better power supply LOL
i mean its not so complicated make better power supply, its just better cables or something. at the end if you pay them for better power supply to have 8 nm you end up having more elictricity bill LOL so whats the case?
i kinda feel it sketchy practise to have two different prices for same thing but to be able to choose 5 or 8 nm.
i think it would be more dignity for fanatic to sell it either just 8 nm for full 8 nm price, or sell it 8 nm as for 5 nm price.... it kinda sketchy selling same shiieeet for 2 different prices and 2 different torque option. kinda sketchy and smelly... i dont like it..
 
D
and my example of selling car WITH navigation in it build in bu LOCKED isnt fiction. it actually happens that ALL new cars have navigation built in BUT if you want it you must pay extra: pay them for shieeet they already did... and people not pay extra, buy same car then go to car hackers and they unlock them navigation for 1/10 price. thats daily business. and now with fanatic i feel the same emotions. i mean they ALREADY made whel base ABLE to put out 8 nm but they want more money from user to be able to use it LOL kinda sketchy smelly stuff happen to simracing.. but as i told simracers buy everything overpriced.
yo want to buy steering wheel for you sim rig? you can buy wheel from real car for 100 dollars, or you can buy EXACTLY SAME wheel for 300 dollars but it has SPARCO logo on it and neon lights xD
 
if they sell it for base price of 5 nm BUT with that "magic" power enchancement to 8nm xD
that could be good. but currently i dont like such practise as selling hardware that is able to make 8 nm BUT want more money to use it xD its controversial like selling cars with navigation in it BUT want more money to unlock it, then you go to some kind of hacker that unlocks that navigation for you at 1/10 of price the dealer want LOL
i just wait till people can buy fanatic 5 nm DD wheel for basic price and they buy on alliexpress some chinese power supply hack thing to unlock rest power to 8 nm xD
as i said i dont like such practise. it would look better in my eyes to make 2 different bases one cheaper of 5 nm and second expensive of 8 nm but selling 5 and 8 nm SAME BASE but you must pay more to have 8 nm LOL that look ridiculous, but simracers as always will buy anything.. reminds me of that quick release systems that are cheaper for real cars than to sim racing LOL
You can happily use an Aliexpress PS or even make your own power supply to unlock the 8 Nm, until you have a problem with the DD and have to send it in for a RMA and you have to include all accessories. No way Fanatec is going to repair your broken DD.
 
Wilko Jones
Premium
I was in a noisy environment when I attempted to watch this review. Thank goodness this article is what Damien said in the video. Now it makes sense and I don't have any issues with most of what he's brought up. I just hope I don't find the power button placement to be problematic as well. There is a bit of distance between the wheel rim and the front of the wheel base, so I don't know how someone would casually brush against the power button and change the bases mode. I am not saying it's impossible, I don't see that will be a common problem. Unless hockey goalie gauntlets are required for sim racing and I missed the memo? LOL

As for the $150 boost kit discussion. The CSL DD with the BK180 was $70 cheaper than the CSW v2.5, a wheel base I was all set to order before the announcement. It's a fair price in my opinion, and I am glad that Fanatec has given customers the option to save money with the 5nm version, or less than half of the wheelbases cost to get the 8nm version.

And I got to buy a round wheel tonight. I hate Alcantara, but it looks like I'm going to have to get a WRC wheel. Sigh... Where's my saddle brush?
 
@Wilko Jones Don't forget before 2017 the CSW 2.5 was 550. Then they lowered it to 450. A 1 or 1.5 year later the upped it again to 550. No idea why. So the real price of a CSW 2.5 is 450. So a used CSW 2.5 is 350 - 400. Perhaps even 300.

I think CSL DD with 8nm is great, but I think a Clubsport DD with 10 - 12 will do the job.
 
Wilko Jones
Premium
@Wilko Jones Don't forget before 2017 the CSW 2.5 was 550. Then they lowered it to 450. A 1 or 1.5 year later the upped it again to 550. No idea why. So the real price of a CSW 2.5 is 450. So a used CSW 2.5 is 350 - 400. Perhaps even 300.

I think CSL DD with 8nm is great, but I think a Clubsport DD with 10 - 12 will do the job.
Absolutely true! At the time I was going to order one, the price was $550. So the CSL DD was still lower than what I was prepared to pay. Used prices on eBay were suspicious or plain stupid, so I was going for a new wheel.
 

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